I'm sure you've heard of the onion analogy. I use it often. I've sort of customized it in my own way, but it holds the same meaning.
Recently, I've had a deep disappointment (I will spare you the story). When I tried to confide in others about it, they failed to understand. Even the people who I was sure would understand, didn't. This, of course, just made it all the harder.
The people who didn't understand thought that they should demonstrate that they DID understand my disappointment by trying to reason me out of it. And yet, this was not what I needed at that time, and made me feel even worse.
You know what I'm talking about. We've all been there. We have all suffered misunderstanding and we've also contributed to the misunderstanding by trying to "fix it."
Hence, the onion analogy, in my own words:
When someone seems sad and you fail to understand why, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Is it so important that you understand why they are sad? Or is this just a desire inside to try to "fix it" for a little self-gratification??
It's an honest question that deserves an honest answer. I have done it--many times. How many times has my sister called crying about something, and instead of doing what I should have done--listened---I tried to reason her out of it by offering my "amazing" insights.
Most often, God asks us to take the humbler project: take a step back and look at the layers.
Like an onion, we also have multiple layers in our lives. Layers of pain, disappointment, rejection, insecurities. One minor disappointment to one person might be a devastation to another. We have no idea what roads each person has traveled, what hurts they've experienced, what has formed them to the person they are today. Why they have such a hard time with that disappointment, or that fear, or that rejection or that anger.
It really isn't up to us to be their therapist. We are usually only called to listen.
It's a hard thing to do because it appears to be the "lesser" of the two. It is not quite as glorifying. Not much to tell to others when we talk about how we helped someone.
When I had my heart attack and was having a hard time with the recovery, a lot of people wanted to help, which was great and I needed it. But when they asked me what they could do, what it was I really needed, I told them: "Play with the kids." That was all I wanted. In between visitors, Dennis struggled with the kids. I could hear them crying for me, and there was nothing I could do for them. Dennis is a great dad but had a very hard time with the stress of being a single parent for that month. He was emotionally spent and couldn't understand that their behavior came from their world being turned upside down, with their mother staying in bed all the time and strangers constantly coming in and out of the house.
And yet, when I asked people to just play with the kids, you know what they did? The dishes. The laundry. Anything that made them feel like they were "helping." I would come out of my room to find a very clean kitchen, but the kids in front of the TV. (Again.)
I know I sound a little bitter here but my point is that it really taught me a lesson of how we people tend to be. I remember this point every time someone fails to understand me, and I remember it again every time I fail to understand someone else.
When someone is suffering, don't worry about understanding the crux of the matter. Sometimes you will truly understand--if God wants it--and other times, He will ask you to help shoulder the load by simply understanding that they are suffering. It is not always necessary to understand why!
Go back to the onion and remember that we all have layers of why's and how's. We all have sad stories, and reasons why, and painful hurts. We aren't perfect people. We haven't always learned how to suffer with joy. Some people have never known love.
The other day, my mom saw a young woman who was crying and shaking. When she asked if she could help, the woman told her she wanted to light a candle for her boyfriend but the church was out of candles. She was nearly hysterical because of this. My mom didn't understand why.
But instead of trying to fix the problem and pat her on the back and assure her that eventually they would refill the candles, she stayed a little longer and listened. And eventually, this woman revealed her reason, layer by layer.
It was the one year anniversary of her boyfriends death. Her boyfriend had committed suicide right in front of her. While she was trying to talk him out of it, he jumped out anyway. Now she is filled with regret, guilt, and grief. She wanted to light a candle to pray for his soul. Lots of reasons to cry over a candle, but my mom never would have known this if she hadn't stayed (for two hours), listening.
She never tried to fix it. In fact, when she told me about this later, she said to me, "It's so sad that people don't know how to use their suffering for good." However, she never felt the need to teach this woman about suffering. Her job at that time, was only to listen.
The onion analogy. The more you peel an onion, the more the tears tend to flow. The same with understanding. The more you understand the layers of pain, the more your tears will flow, layer by layer.
It may not seem much to us, but it is a heroic gesture to the person who felt they were understood.